Consumerism:Impact On Climate Change
“Rohan! Switch off the air conditioner and fan”, shouted Rohan’s mother. Rohan, a 14 year old, had just woken up and was busy brushing his teeth when his mother asked him to switch off the air conditioner and the fan in his bedroom. As he started walking towards his bedroom he heard his mom shout again. “Rohan, who do you think will turn off the tap in the washbasin? Stop wasting electricity and water, will you!” This is the way a day usually starts for Rohan. This in fact is the way a day usually starts for millions of children who have lived a life of luxury and comfort. Keeping fans, air conditioners, coolers and water taps turned on does not pinch their pockets or prick their conscience. They don’t realize the importance of money due to their naïveté. But, they certainly do need to know the impact their actions have on the ecology and environment. Their present actions will determine their future standard of living and quality of life on this planet, not just for them but all of humanity.
So how exactly does this sort of consumption pattern affect the ecological balance and climate? To begin with, consumption of energy (electricity) may not have any direct visible impact on nature and its surroundings. But, it surely has a huge impact on the environment due to the way it is generated. Most of the electricity produced today comes from thermal (coal) power plants. The greater the amount of coal we burn to produce electricity, the greater will be the carbon emission in the atmosphere. This carbon emission will then remain in the atmosphere in case they are not inhaled by natural vegetation (Trees inhale CO2 and exhale Oxygen). Most of the thick rainforests of Brazil, South East Asia and Africa are known carbon reservoirs. However, deforestation, industrialization and globalization have greatly reduced their efficiency to store carbon emission, which now is left above the earth’s atmosphere. Due to this, the oxygen content in atmosphere is greatly reduced. This is a result of the symbiotic relationship between humans and the plant kingdom. Plants inhale CO2 and exhale oxygen. Humans on the other hand, inhale Oxygen and exhale CO2. If the plant population reduces, the amount of available oxygen will reduce and CO2 content will increase. The proportion of CO2 and Oxygen will be impacted as a result of this deforestation. The ability to reflect sunlight is affected (diminished in this case) and as a result the overall temperature of the earth increases. This phenomenon is better known as global warming. The impact of rise in temperature will lead to great water scarcity (fresh water sources are around 3% of total available water sources of the world), floods (mainly due to melting of glaciers), and reduction in foodgrain production. The ever increasing temperature also will seriously threaten the flora and fauna present on earth. The polar bear population has reduced dramatically due to the melting of glaciers. The world faces the prospect of losing the polar bears forever.
The phenomenon of global warming dates back to the early days of the industrial revolution, when man started releasing toxic gases like Carbon dioxide and methane into the earth’s atmosphere. What they did not know at that time was that the atmosphere could absorb only a limited amount of Carbon Dioxide. The atmosphere basically is similar to a parking lot where only a fixed number of cars can be parked. One can play around with the arrangement of cars but the overall parking strength would more or less remain the same. If the capacity of the parking lot is 100 cars, then we have already parked around 90 cars over the last 150 years. There is space left for only 10 more cars. (The analogy here is between cars and CO2 content) The countries of the world are now fighting over how many cars they can park (rather the amount of CO2 they can emit). International negotiations are pretty much stuck at who owns more responsibility in cutting emissions. It is more of a developed nation’s v/s developing nation’s debate. This is the status quo on climate change and global warming talks. The Cop-15 summit held at Copenhagen last year failed due to this tussle between the developed and developing countries.
A question which might come to mind is why not move away from Carbon based fossil fuels to the conventional energy sources and nuclear, hydro based power. This transition is easier said than done. Thermal power is the cheapest source of power available today. Nuclear power is almost 8 times costlier than thermal power and solar power cost goes even higher than that. Solar power has other problems like dependence on available sunlight. Hydro power certainly seems a good option but it has many other ethical and environmental problems like deforestation and displacement.The India’s Narmada Bachao Andolan is a glaring example of the issues governments and companies face with big hydro-power projects. Developing countries like India might start making a transition to nuclear power but this would be a very expensive solution which may have political repercussions for the ruling party. At the end of the day the government would always be concerned about higher GDP and growth rates. No President or PM would risk going to the polls with lower growth rates. So as of now everyone is happy with thermal power plants, notwithstanding all the talk of energy conservation and climate change. Also the potential risks attached with Nuclear power are very high. The Chernobyl disaster still rankles in the minds of people when they think of the repercussions of a nuclear disaster.
Coming back to Rohan and millions of other kids like him who might wonder how cutting electricity consumption would reduce global warming, well it certainly would not reduce global warming but would at least delay the inevitable. This would certainly give to the world’s scientists, engineers, leaders and policy makers more time to arrive at a feasible solution to deal with this potent threat.
Organisations and Events on climate change –
The Indian Youth Climate Network (IYCN) is a network uniting Indian youth and youth oriented organizations who are concerned about climate change & environment issues. IYCN is inviting applications for CoP 16, the climate change summit to be held in Cancun, Mexico.
For more details visit – www.iycn.in